A positive safety culture - what does that look like?

February 2023

Safety culture refers to the shared values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors related to safety in an organization. It encompasses the organization's commitment to safety, the way safety is prioritized and integrated into daily operations, and the attitudes and behaviors of all employees towards safety. A positive safety culture is one in which safety is seen as a fundamental priority and where all employees take ownership of safety and work together to continuously improve it. 

Creating a positive safety culture in the workplace is no easy feat, but it can have huge benefits for both business owners and employees alike. By creating an environment where everyone understands and follows safety protocols, you foster a better working relationship between managers and employees while minimizing potential hazards to health. In this blog, we’ll be exploring what exactly is meant by ‘a positive safety culture’, how you cultivate one within your organization or workplace, and why it matters in the first place.

Characteristics of a Positive Safety Culture

A positive safety culture goes beyond simply having the right tools and resources; rather, it requires an overall commitment from employers and employees alike to promote safe practices throughout their organization. While there is no one size fits all approach to establishing a good safety culture, there are key characteristics of a positive safety culture that organizations should strive for in order to create and maintain a safe and healthy work environment:

1. Employee involvement and empowerment

A positive safety culture encourages employee involvement and empowers them to identify potential hazards and take an active role in improving safety in the workplace.

Here are a few scenarios that illustrate how organizations can encourage employee involvement and empowerment to promote a positive safety culture:

• Safety Committees: Let's say an organization establishes a safety committee made up of employees from different areas of the organization. The committee meets regularly to identify potential hazards, provide safety training, and monitor safety performance metrics. The committee is empowered to make recommendations to management about how to improve safety in the workplace, and management takes these recommendations seriously.

• Hazard Reporting: An organization that encourages employees to report potential hazards creates a culture of empowerment, where employees feel that their input is valued and taken seriously. For example, if an employee notices that a machine is malfunctioning or that a piece of equipment is broken, they should be encouraged to report it to their supervisor or to the safety committee.

• Safety Training: Providing employees with safety training empowers them to identify and report potential hazards, and provides them with the knowledge and skills to mitigate or avoid safety risks. For example, if an organization provides training on the proper use of personal protective equipment, employees are more likely to use this equipment when necessary, which reduces the risk of workplace injuries.

2. Open communication

A positive safety culture fosters open and honest communication between employees and management, where all safety concerns are addressed and resolved in a timely manner.

Here are some examples that illustrate the importance of open communication in promoting a positive safety culture:

An employee notices a spill on the factory floor and reports it to their supervisor. The supervisor promptly addresses the issue by calling a custodian to clean up the spill, preventing a potential slip and fall hazard.

During a safety meeting, an employee raises concerns about the safety of a particular piece of equipment. The group discusses the issue and decides to bring in an expert to inspect the equipment and make any necessary repairs.

An employee observes a coworker not wearing the required personal protective equipment (PPE) for a particular job. The employee reports the violation to their supervisor, who addresses the issue with the coworker and emphasizes the importance of following safety protocols.

A manager invites employees to provide feedback on the safety policies and procedures in place. Employees share their suggestions and concerns, and the manager uses that feedback to update the safety plan and make improvements where needed.

3. Continuous learning and improvement

A positive safety culture promotes continuous learning and improvement through ongoing training, education, and feedback.

Here are some ways it can be implemented in the workplace:

Providing regular safety training to employees on topics such as hazard identification, emergency response procedures, and proper use of equipment.

Encouraging employees to attend safety seminars or conferences to learn about the latest best practices and industry standards.

Conducting regular safety audits or inspections to identify areas for improvement and take corrective action as needed.

Encouraging employees to report any safety concerns or near-misses, and using that information to improve safety protocols.

Conducting regular safety drills or simulations to prepare employees for emergency situations and identify areas for improvement.

4. Strong leadership and commitment to safety

A positive safety culture requires strong leadership and a commitment to safety from top management, who set an example by prioritizing safety in all decisions and actions.

Here are some ideas for building a positive safety culture through strong leadership and commitment to safety:

Management should regularly review safety data, incidents, and near-misses to identify patterns and trends, and use this information to make data-driven decisions that improve safety.

Leaders should regularly communicate safety messages to employees through newsletters, safety meetings, and other channels to keep safety top-of-mind.

Management should ensure that safety protocols and procedures are clearly documented, easily accessible, and regularly reviewed and updated.

Leaders should involve employees in safety planning, goal-setting, and continuous improvement initiatives to encourage buy-in and ownership.

Management should provide adequate resources and support for safety programs, such as safety committees, safety training, and safety equipment.

5. Recognition and reward for safe behavior

A positive safety culture recognizes and rewards safe behavior.  When employees engage in safe behaviors, they should be acknowledged and rewarded to promote a positive safety culture.

Here’s how organizations can recognize and reward safe behavior as a part of a positive safety culture:

• Verbal praise: Employees who follow safety protocols and go above and beyond to ensure a safe work environment can be recognized and praised publicly or privately.

• Financial incentives: Employers may offer bonuses, gift cards, or other financial rewards to employees who demonstrate exemplary safety practices and behavior.

• Promotions: Employers may consider safety records and behavior when making promotion decisions.

• Awards and certificates: Employers can give out awards or certificates to recognize employees who have contributed to a positive safety culture.

• Other forms of positive reinforcement: Employers may find creative ways to reward safe behavior, such as allowing employees to take time off or providing extra training opportunities.

Benefits of a Positive Safety Culture

Safety is a critical element of any organization, large or small. Taking the time to develop and maintain a strong culture of safety can have numerous benefits for an organization, its employees, and its customers:

1. Reduced accidents and injuries

A positive safety culture leads to a reduction in accidents and injuries in the workplace, which in turn reduces workers' compensation claims and associated costs.

2. Improved productivity

When employees feel safe and secure in their work environment, they are more productive and engaged in their work. This leads to increased efficiency and output.

3. Better employee morale and retention

A positive safety culture leads to a happier and more engaged workforce, which can result in better employee retention and reduced turnover.

4. Enhanced reputation

A workplace with a positive safety culture has a reputation for being a responsible and ethical employer, which can attract new talent and customers.

5. Cost savings

By reducing accidents and injuries and improving productivity, a positive safety culture can result in significant cost savings for the organization.

6. Legal compliance

A positive safety culture can help organizations comply with safety regulations and avoid legal penalties and fines.

7. Peace of mind

A positive safety culture provides peace of mind to employees, who can focus on their work without worrying about safety hazards.

Creating and Sustaining a Positive Safety Culture

Instilling a culture of safety within an organization certainly doesn't happen out of habit; it requires ongoing effort and commitment from all members and branches. It involves a combination of leadership, employee involvement, training, communication, and continuous improvement. Here are some key strategies and best practices for creating and sustaining a positive safety culture:

• Assessing and identifying areas for improvement: This involves regularly assessing the workplace for potential hazards and identifying areas where safety improvements can be made. This can be done through workplace inspections, hazard assessments, and employee feedback. Once areas for improvement have been identified, an action plan can be developed to address these issues.

• Developing and implementing safety policies and procedures: A positive safety culture requires clear and comprehensive safety policies and procedures to be in place. These policies and procedures should be communicated to all employees and regularly reviewed and updated as needed to ensure they are effective.

• Providing ongoing training and education: Regular training and education on safety practices and procedures is essential for creating and maintaining a positive safety culture. This can include general safety training for all employees, specialized training for those in high-risk positions, and ongoing education to keep employees up to date on new safety practices and procedures.

• Regularly measuring and monitoring progress: To maintain a positive safety culture, it is important to regularly measure and monitor progress in implementing safety policies and procedures. This can be done through safety audits, incident reporting and analysis, and other performance metrics. Based on the data collected, changes can be made to further improve safety and prevent future incidents.

• Encouraging and rewarding safe behavior: Encouraging and rewarding safe behavior is an important component of a positive safety culture. This can include providing positive feedback to employees who follow safety protocols, offering financial incentives for safe behavior, or recognizing employees who have contributed to improving safety in the workplace. These efforts help reinforce the importance of safety and can help create a culture where safety is a top priority for all employees.

Conclusion:

A strong safety culture is key to a successful business. A positive safety culture should not be something that is just talked about, but something that is actually lived and breathed by everyone in the organization from top to bottom. By implementing all the tips and strategies that we discussed in this blog, you can create a positive safety culture in your workplace. It starts with management setting the tone and making sure that health and safety are a priority for the business. 

It is essential for organizations to prioritize and invest in a positive safety culture to ensure the health and safety of their employees, enhance productivity, and reduce costs. By taking proactive steps to create and sustain a positive safety culture, organizations can not only prevent accidents and injuries but also improve employee morale and retention, enhance their reputation, and save costs. Therefore, we encourage organizations to prioritize and invest in creating and maintaining a positive safety culture to ensure a safe and healthy work environment for all.

If you need help managing your business' health and safety, Coyle Group can help. We offer consulting services to businesses of all sizes. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you create a safe work environment for your employees.

Find out how to manage your business' health and safety better

RIDDOR and COVID-19

Many employers are concerned about their reporting obligations for COVID-19/Coronavirus/SARS-CoV-2 under RIDDOR in the ongoing pandemic. You may be pleased to know that you do not have to report everything to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). We'll provide more info about when, what, and how to report.


The most common concern we've seen recently from employers is whether they need to report all COVID-19 and coronavirus testing results to the HSE. The short answer is no. According to the HSE: “There is no requirement under RIDDOR (The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013) to report incidents of disease or deaths of members of the public, patients, care home residents or service users from COVID-19. The reporting requirements relating to cases of, or deaths from, COVID-19 under RIDDOR apply only to occupational exposure, that is, as a result of a person's work.”

Generally speaking, the ordinary RIDDOR rules already cover COVID-19. You should only make a report under RIDDOR when one of the following circumstances applies:

• an accident or incident at work has or could have caused the release of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). (Report as Dangerous occurrence)

• a worker is diagnosed with COVID-19 due to occupational exposure. (Report as Disease)

• a worker dies because of occupational coronavirus exposure. (Report as Work-related death due to exposure to a biological agent)

The bottom line is that existing rules cover most COVID-19 measures, and most of the COVID-19 guidance comes from public health authorities rather than the HSE. The environment remains chaotic, but you can minimize your legal exposure by continuing your existing compliance steps. This will include communicating with your insurer about risks, following public health guidance, and communicating regularly with your workers or unions on any of their concerns.

© Gavin Coyle, 2021